Feeling seen is integral towards feeling like we belong. Feeling understood — being shown and extending empathy — is even more integral towards feeling welcome and creating an inclusive environment.
A brief hello, a wave in the hallway, a shared cup of coffee, catching up on the weekend in person instead of on camera… we continue to crave these moments in both work and life settings. These are markers of community — of familiarity — of shared rhythms and practices that make teammates and classmates and friends (and ourselves) feel more human.
Empathy is a practice that is essential to feeling comfortable. Traditional empathy maps (containing four quadrants—says, thinks, does, and feels) provide us with a framework that fosters thoughtful planning. Fast Company explains how “the four quadrants help design professionals paint a full picture of what the user needs and feels in relation to a problem or hole in the market. This allows designers to get into the mind of the user to better put aside any assumptions or biases that they might have while also ensuring the prototyping and testing phases will be as close as possible to the best result or solution.”
While it might be tempting to assume that empathy is “just a blip” in an era of hyperfixation on community and longing and inclusivity, Steelcase’s Tracy Brower suggests otherwise. In Forbes she questions if “a focus on empathy could be a short-term emphasis without long-term staying power”… but concludes that “the answer is: Probably not. Empathy is likely here to stay.”
She explains that trends [such as the socialization of empathy in design, relationships, and at work] “tend to catch on when there’s a critical mass of people who share an experience. This is true because experiences affect beliefs, and beliefs drive behaviors which ultimately shape results.”
Steelcase research explains how offices will need to earn people’s commute by meeting a new set of needs: supporting hybrid work, establishing connections, creating a sense of belonging and promoting wellbeing — all of which suffered during the pandemic.
Since we crave community + connection outside of work, we certainly are bound to crave it in the settings where we spend the majority of our time. We are oftentimes less familiar or comfortable with teammates than we are friends or family.
Steelcase believes that workspaces should draw inspiration from “the neighborhoods where we live, learn and grow. Great neighborhoods are diverse, inclusive and resilient. They bring people together and create a sense of community, yet they change over time to respond to the people who live there.” Sounds to us like designing with empathy.
What might it look like to engage in your work community with empathy? What might it look like to solve real-life problems with empathetic Design Thinking principles? How can we make real understanding, real listening, and real connection a practice in both our work and life?
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